Of all the design elements that shape a room, one in particular really brings it to life: something from the garden.
A bouquet of red tulips can electrify an all-white interior -- especially against the backdrop of a bleak winter landscape. Stems of lucky bamboo or a tray packed with neatly clipped wheat grass, growing like a mini lawn on a cocktail table, can loosen up an edgy contemporary space while maintaining its Zen spirit.
With an increase in availability and variety, even at the local supermarket, more people are saying it with flowers. The vocabulary of flowers also has blossomed, well beyond traditional packaged bouquets like roses and baby's breath accented by a green fern.
And the more choices we have, it seems the more we are drawn to simpler, less formal ways to display flowers. Fine crystal is not required. You don't even need a vase. Think of anything that can serve as a vessel -- from an old soda bottle to a hollowed-out vegetable to a grouping of Mason jars.
In Simple Flower Style (Lark Books, $24.95), editor Paige Gilchrist describes a new stylish flair for displaying blooms as an "uncluttered approach that complements the way we live and decorate today."
"There's definitely a more relaxed, casual attitude," says David Stark, one half of aviadler, one of the hottest floral design and event planning teams in New York.
If you've seen the work of Stark and partner Avi Adler, you won't forget it. Their look is characterized by lushness and strength in astonishing numbers -- thousands of flowers packed together in totally unexpected ways.
The artists (they started out as painters) use their keen eye for color, shape and scale, mixed with a wit that throws things off balance to come up with such notions as pouffy clouds made of baby's breath or square compositions of flowers hung like 3-D paintings.
"We transform materials," Stark says.
Take carnations, which have developed a bad rap. They are the stuff of prom boutonnieres, dyed pompons for high school floats and emerald-green bouquets for St. Patrick's Day. But for a grand party for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the two painted the walls black to give the impression of an infinite space and "floated" 70,000 white carnations from the ceiling.
The petal power of red carnations also is breathtaking when dozens are jammed together in a tall vase filled with red-and-white peppermint candies -- something that's become an aviadler signature.
Stark and Adler share some of their party tricks in Wild Flowers -- Projects and Inspirations (Clarkson Potter, $25), which they describe as "a children's book about flowers for adults."
One dazzling display is a mini garden on a dining table, created by "growing" colorful poppies on a bed of wheat grass. Another cool idea is a riot of polka dots created by the flowers themselves (mums or daisies with contrasting centers or arrangements punctuated with Christmas balls, for example).
Stark and Adler don't stop with the flowers. They even polka-dotted vases by sticking on dots -- labeling stickers in any color you can find in an office supply store.
Other tricks include adding color to vessels (hint: sodas available in lilacs, limes and pool blue are more effective than food coloring), then coordinating glasses and napkins to match.
Since they are in the business, Stark and Adler can't help but be aware of flower trends, which designate a particular bloom the darling of a season. A few years back, sunflowers were everywhere. Another year it was parrot tulips. Often the flower of the moment is inspired by fashion -- the print of a fabric or a wall covering -- until it's ubiquitous, from place mats to greeting cards.
Stark says the team still wouldn't rule out a popular bloom -- they'd just think of another thing to do with it. Bamboo, for example, became a 20-foot-tall screen for one party. Large marigolds were transformed into huge 10-foot giraffes, like something plucked from a Rose Bowl parade.
One device for elevating even the most ordinary flower, such as alstromeria, is to mass it. Commonly known as the Mexican tiger lily, it often is a companion to carnations in supermarkets.
"Use two, three, four, multiple bunches to create one large arrangement," Stark advises. "Get rid of what we call the salad -- a lot of extra leaves."
To tailor flowers to a particular interior, take cues from wall color, the patterns in a fabric, the art or other accessories such as pillows.
A tangerine wall springs to life when the hue is repeated in a mix of tulips of different varieties and set in a striped crock in the same tones. Pink pulled from quilts in a country-inspired room is flattered by lacy baby's breath in an unexpected matching blush.
What Simple Flower Style demonstrates is that the mood can be shifted -- even by using the same flowers, just by changing containers or adding unusual elements.
Towering fluted glass containers filled with crabapples (or cranberries) and topped with red amaryllis can be positively glamorous on a formally set dining table. A couple of amaryllis stems in rustic pottery blends into a more casual setting.
Don't rule out vessels not intended for flowers. A chartreuse martini pitcher is electric when overflowing with hot pink rhododendrons and orange azaleas.
Use your imagination and find inventive use for everyday objects. No matter what your style, there are dozens of complements for your favorite blooms.